Baked Ziti

Jul 3, 2012

Today I'd like to share one of those dishes that easily becomes a family favorite. Filled with a rich tomato and cream sauce, oodles of noodles, and plenty of melty cheese, this Ziti is simply the bomb. 

Dot com. 

And my little brothers agree. And sisters. So does Dad. And Mom (she gets a kick our of calling this Zitty [zit-ee].... "Oooh! Good! You made Zitty for dinner!" *Insert my eye-roll here because Mom likes to think she's rather hilarious.*)

Anyway. Thanks to the ever-dependable Cook's Illustrated, we have ourselves a lovely dish of scrumptious Ziti [zee-tee].


Notes: I've added a touch of cinnamon to the sauce because I think it adds just a hint of extra flavor without being easily detected as cinnamon. You can leave it out if you prefer. Also, I like to use whole-wheat pasta, but you can obviously use whatever's on hand. I baked my ziti in some of these individual cast iron dishes, just to up the cute factor. Go ahead and bake this pasta in whatever your little heart desires.

Adapted from Cook's Illustrated, March & April 2009
Baked Ziti 

1 lb. whole milk cottage cheese
2 eggs
3 ounces grated Parmesan (about 1 1/2 cups)

1/4 cup kosher salt
1 lb. whole-wheat ziti (or other short tubular pasta)

2 tablespoons olive oil
7 medium garlic cloves, minced
1 28-ounce can tomato sauce
1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil

1 cup heavy cream (or whole milk)
1 teaspoon cornstarch

10 ounces low-moisture mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/4-inch pieces (about 1 3/4 cups)

Heat oven to 350°F. Butter a 9 x 13 inch baking dish and set aside.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Stir in kosher salt and pasta. Cook pasta unil it is just beginning to soften but is not yet cooked through, about 5 minutes. Drain pasta and leave in colander. Leave the pot out for use again later.

Whisk cottage cheese, eggs, and 1 cup Parmesan together in medium bowl; set aside.

Heat oil and garlic in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat until garlic is fragrant but not brown, about 30 seconds. Stir in tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, oregano, salt, pepper, and cinnamon (if using). Simmer until thickened, about 10 minutes. Off heat, stir in 1/2 cup basil and sugar. Season with additional salt and pepper, if needed.

In the now-empty pasta pot, whisk heavy cream (or whole milk) and cornstarch until combined. Heat over medium and bring to a simmer. Cook until thickened, 3-4 minutes. Remove pot from heat and add cottage cheese mixture, 1 cup tomato sauce, and 3/4 of the mozzarella pieces. Stir to combine. Add pasta and stir to coat thoroughly with sauce.

Transfer pasta mixture to the baking dish and pour the remaining tomato sauce evenly over pasta. Sprinkle remaining mozzarella and remaining Parmesan over top.

Cover dish tightly with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil and continue to bake until cheese is bubbling and beginning to brown, about 30 minutes longer. Cool 15 minutes before serving.

Yield: Serves 8-10
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